5.05.2018

Exquisitely Elegant Comfort Food

It was almost Easter. While it would be just the two of us, dinner still required a special menu.

Lamb? Ham? Damn! I wanted something that didn’t rhyme.

Saffron brought back from Provence by Susan and Towny.
It was the perfect time for me to let go of tradition and hit the bookshelves. I craved something quintessentially NOT Easter-like.

I started looking in the “exotic” section of my cookbooks. You know - nothing from North America or Western Europe, not even Australia/New Zealand. I know... I know... There are exotic foods from all these regions. After all, I’m sure someone finds the Fluffernutter Sandwich, bangers and mash, or Vegemite exotic... but not me.

My foray to the bookshelves took me to South and Latin America, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. I have more than 50 cookbooks in this section alone.

I have lived in none of these places, and have visited only a few. Yet, somehow - and Mark feels the same way - these cuisines have become our comfort food. Perhaps because so many of their origins suggest sun and warmth, when those were in themselves exotic to us during our Maine years. Most often, they are not dishes we make for guests, but for one another. Private food.

I guess that started when we lived in Kittery, Maine. Across the river in Portsmouth, New Hampshire - just a few minutes walk from our 1806 cottage - was a small Indian restaurant where we went for quiet dinners.

Unlike the fancier restaurants in town, Mr. India gave us a refuge from running into everyone we knew in our small New England town. It was always low-lit, intimate, and unwaveringly welcoming.

Thinking back on wonderful evenings we spent there, I decided our Easter dinner would be an Indian meal. I gathered a few cookbooks from which I hadn’t cooked yet (how many of those do you have?), and settled down to pick our meal.

Cool plate, eh? I got it from Food Photo Needs.
As I flipped through the beautifully-designed and photographed pages of Vij’s Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine, the recipe for his shrimp curry with saffron and coconut leapt off the page. I needed look no further.

I went to get a bottle of white wine to serve with the curry and accidentally pulled out a Côtes du Rhône Rosé. It was a good choice and a nice accident, as it was an excellent pairing. You can read about it on the Provence WineZine.

~ David

Shrimp Curry with Saffron and Coconut
Minimally adapted from the recipe by Vikram Vij

1 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 cup lukewarm water
28 large prawns, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin seeds
3 cups puréed fresh tomatoes (see note)
2 tablespoons brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek seed
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups water
2 cups coconut milk, full fat, stirred
Basmati rice, for serving

Place the saffron in a small bowl and pour in the lukewarm water. Let sit for 20 minutes.

Place shrimp in a non-reactive bowl and add 1 teaspoon of the salt. Using your hands, massage the salt into the shrimp. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Stir in the cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle for 30 seconds. Turn the heat to medium, then add the tomatoes, mustard seeds, ground fenugreek, pepper flakes, turmeric, and the remaining 1 tablespoon salt. Stir well and cook for 5 minutes, or until the oil glistens on the tomatoes.

Add the 2 cups water, stir well, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the curry another 10 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the coconut milk, saffron, and the saffron soaking water, and cook another 10 minutes. (The curry can be made to this point in advance and brought back to a boil just before serving.)

With the curry boiling over medium heat, add the shrimp in a single layer but do not stir them. Allow them to cook undisturbed for 1 minute. Then stir gently and toss, coating with the sauce. Let cook another 4 minutes, or until shrimp are done.

Serve with basmati rice.

Serves 4.

Note: I used two tomatoes to get 3 cups purée but they were big tomatoes! I cut them in half and squeezed as many of the seeds out as I could, then puréed them in the blender.

31 comments:

  1. The most beautiful curry ( at least for us ) is the one made with sea food )! Thank you for the story told, also ! Enjoy the day !

    ReplyDelete
  2. This sounds very nice, David. I make the occasional foray into Chinese cookery, but never Indian. I usually find the list of ingredients intimidatingly long. This recipe, on the other hand, looks very manageable. And the result, well, looks delightful.

    By the way, if you've got 50 cookbooks just for "exotic" cuisines, I have to imagine your cookbook library must be gigantic...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The cookbook library is, well, embarrassing, Frank. Please don’t ask me to count the Italian books! ;-)

      The funny thing about the ingredients... Italian and Indian are probably my two favorite cuisines and they couldn’t be more different when it comes to recipes. Italian tends to be simpler with fewer ingredients, and Indian can have 30 or more! And, if you are concerned about the size of my cookbook library, you should see my spices!!

      Delete
  3. Well this looks, amazing, David. I can't wait until I stop eating locally and can indulge in shrimp and coconut milk again (and citrus and ...). And OF COURSE you still need a special meal if you are two for a holiday...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Inger! How much longer do you have to go? I admire you but could never go fully local...

      Delete
    2. I go to about mid-september. So glad I brought back some citrus when we visited Florida :)

      Delete
  4. Am supposedly on blogbreak for uni exams and to watch Giro d'Italia - but just had to say, having cooked 'curries' (well 23 countries have them as their national dish and there are over 20, 000 different ones in India alone!) since I was a teenager in ancient history at least once or twice a week - this is a very different spicing and I really want to try . . . am fairly certain it may be too mild for me but it may very well balance a seafood dish!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know, Eha - isn't it wonderful how many curries there are out there? We both like spices but are open to different spicing - for us, not everything has to be the same heat. Sometimes, it is the balance that gives life interest!

      Delete
  5. David, that looks delightful. And I always love a happy accident in wine pairing. Those long lists of spices can be problematic, but I just found a solution. I had gone out to buy cardamom and found it only in the tall spice bottles and priced at $17. I decided to do without because most of it would end up going to waste. I was telling a friend about it, and she told me the natural foods store I go to all the time sells herbs and spices in bulk. So on my next trip, sure enough, right there in plain sight; but I hadn't seen it! So I bought 1/4 ounce and was so happy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have been using a natural food store for spices for as long as I can remember. I think I learned this in college at the COOP. It kept me from spending a fortune on little glass bottles - much of the cost was the bottle! Enjoy!

      Delete
  6. The color of this excellent meal certainly make rose seem like a wonderful choice! Happy memories shared here too and I always love that. GREG

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy memories are always a good reason to eat/cook, Greg!

      Delete
  7. Wow, more than 50 cookbooks! I can't go to a bookstore any more without buying a cookbook- I even have my mother's Fanny Farmer cookbooks from the 1940s. Looking forward to trying your curry!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know - and those 50 are just the tip of the iceberg! And I have my mother’s Fannie Farmer, too!

      Delete
  8. A wonderfully exotic dish, David! Yet, still simple and wonderful for an evening meal anytime (including special occasions)! You now have me craving shrimp!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We are cooking a lot from his book, Christina - each recipe so flavorful and unique!

      Delete
  9. Love the memories and the delicious dish. Adn your photos are really exquisite!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Valentina - photography compliments fro you mean a lot!

      Delete
  10. What an amazing orangey/red colour. I love saffron so I know this would taste amazing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me, too, Caroline - saffron is one of my favorote flavors!

      Delete
  11. I love dishes like yours, the colors , the flavors. David, I am impressed by your cook book collection, it is so much fun to find different recipes and admire all the work that went into publishing them. A friend just gave me a new one called Sugar and Spice by Samantha Seneviratne .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for letting me know about Sugar and Spice, Gerlinde - it sounds wonderful!

      Delete
  12. Now here's a recipe definitely worth cracking open a jar of saffron for. What a gorgeous meal! I think I'd need some extra naan to mop up those glorious golden juices.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And you remind me that I need to reorder some saffron! Thanks, John!

      Delete
  13. David, this looks exquisite. Love how you made this meal so meaningful for you and Mark..."private food" Love this new term. I have a slight cookbook collection as well and a slight cooking magazine problem, I mean collection too. Thank goodness for stylish storage cubes! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I went (almost) cold turkey on the magazines - I only get one now. It isn’t very liberating!

      Delete
  14. Wow I thought I had a lot of cookbooks! What a lovely dish with so many aromatic flavours.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Emma - I have quite a cookbook problem. Actually, Mark considers it HIS problem! No room for any of his books!

      Delete
  15. Yum! Far better than ham and a nice switch from lamb! How was the saffron? In Provence, for many years, it was not uncommon to grow saffron. Now, growing it commercially is making a comeback. The meal looks wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The saffron was amazing, Susan! You can always bring more of that back! ;)

      Delete

Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

If you would like to receive follow-up comments, simply click the "Subscribe by E-mail" link to the right of the "Publish" and "Preview" buttons.